Saturday, 27 June 2015

Gingersnap

This is intended as a relatively light, possibly sad game about queer romance, dating and sex... but you could use it to tell non-queer stories too, I'll leave that up to you. It's a little more substantial than the average short game on this blog, because it covers some more complex topics than usual. Finally, you don't have to be queer to play this game, but it helps!

Getting Started

Tom Daley & Dustin Lance Black
The game's set-up and final outcome is strongly affected by the number of players: if you have an odd number, then one of the character's is almost certainly going to end up alone at the end. In order to play, you'll need some blank sheets of paper to serve as character profiles, some post-it notes or index cards cut in half to identify Qualities, pencils & erasers and at least one six-sided die per player.

Deal out 4 cards to each player and talk about Qualities: a Quality is the sort of thing that you might find on a dating site profile as an enticing description of someone's lifestyle, personality or interests. Some examples include:

Sporty                 Literate              Cinephile               Well-Off         Biker
Educated            Political             Handicrafter          Spiritual           Musical
Cook                  Artistic               Pet Owner             Sociable           Well-Travelled

Discuss which of these are interesting to you as a group and define what you mean by them, so that everyone shares an understanding of what the Qualities signify. Each player should propose two Qualities which will be used in the game, writing each one down twice in a short-form on their cards once they have been agreed, so that there are two cards for each Quality. It will also be helpful to maintain a document that lists all the Qualities and their definitions, for reference during play.

Once the Qualities are written, create two decks, by placing half the Qualities in each deck: to be clear, place both cards featuring a Quality in one of the decks, not one card in each deck. Shuffle each deck separately and then deal one card to each player from each deck; this process avoids any player getting two identical Qualities.
For example, I might write out the Quality 'Knitter' on two of my cards and the Quality 'Cosplayer' on two others; I would then put both 'Knitter' cards in Deck A and both 'Cosplayer' cards in Deck B. When I draw cards for the Qualities my character will have, I draw only one card from Deck A and one card from Deck B, so I won't get two Qualities which are the same.

Use the Qualities you are dealt to create your character: you are not confined to using only those Qualities in your character's profile, you may use any you like, even those not recorded on any Quality cards, but the cards you are dealt will determine which other characters you might be a match with. You cannot show your cards to any other player nor directly communicate to them which cards you have been dealt.

In addition to the Qualities you have, you also choose two other Qualities which you do not have: one of these is your Deal Maker and the other is your Deal Breaker. The Deal Maker is a Quality you are consciously seeking in a partner, whilst the Deal Breaker is the Quality most likely to put you off a potential partner. When choosing your Deal Maker and Deal Breaker, only use Qualities that have been agreed for this game, don't make up additional ones; also, after writing these down on your profile, do not show them or communicate them to other players, as with your two Qualities.

When creating your character profile, keep in mind that all the characters are potentially available for romantic or sexual partnerships with all the other characters: the assumption that the game makes is that all the characters share the same gender identity and sexual preference, but you can use a different set of assumptions, such as a mix of polysexual, multigendered characters.

For simplicity, it's worth establishing relationships between the characters before beginning play: the quickest way to do this is to state that they all share a common social space, whether that is a virtual one or in the real world. The more complex and realistic way is to have the first player establish their character's relationship to the second player's character, who then establishes a relationship to the third player's character and so on, until the last player establishes a relationship between their character and the first player's.

The Heady & Complex World We Call 'Real'

Once the characters are defined, the game begins by the first player framing a scene, using the standard simple process of answering these questions:
  • Where does the scene take place?
  • What is happening there?
  • Who else is present?
When it is your turn to frame a scene, make sure to invite at least one other player to place their character in the scene, giving a reason for them being there in the process. Try to make a scene open to as many characters as possible, don't restrict your focus to the relationship between two characters: if anyone else wants their character to enter a scene, and can provide a legitimate reason for their character to do so, they may.

Ellen Degeneres & Portia de Rossi
A scene continues until it hits a Snag: this is a situation, dilemma or problem that the characters can attempt to resolve within the boundaries of that scene, so they can't put the whole world to rights but they can fix a broken window, organise a surprise party, get someone to a hospital, pass a job interview and so on. Any player who has a character in the scene can identify the Snag, but if the other players don't think it's that big a Snag, they can simply resolve it through the narrative and play on until a better Snag is reached.

To resolve a Snag, each player who has a character in the scene may opt to roll a six-sided die, indicating that they are co-operating to resolve the Snag; if you want to complicate matters, you can allow players to split into sides, with some rolling to resolve the Snag and others rolling to prevent them from resolving it. Whoever rolls the highest wins the narrative rights for resolving the Snag, but that's really only half the story.

Everyone who rolls in any scene compares their dice to everyone else who rolls, even if they are on opposite sides of the situation: any two players who rolled the same number have clicked with each other. When you click with another character, discuss or play out with them an aspect of the scene, its Snag or its resolution: try to find some commonality that makes the characters feel like they have grown closer, whether that's an outlook or simply a shared memory. If three or more characters all click on the same number, then they must all agree on what common experience they have shared in this scene. If you click with the highest result rolled, then the shared experience should be something amazing that resolves the Snag: all players involved in the click should come up with this resolution co-operatively.

When you click with another character, write down their name on your character profile and record the number you clicked on: you can only click with each other character once per number, i.e. if you have clicked with another character on a roll of 1, then rolling 1s with them again in a later scene has no further effect.

A Short Aside On the Matter of Sex

On your turn as a player, you can go on a date with another character: date scenes work like any other scene, but Snags are replaced by Sex. It's up to your group of players what you find is a suitably detailed level of narration for dating scenes: you might want to play through the date and draw a veil over the Sex, but you should at least mention that Sex takes place. At the end of each date scene, you roll dice for the Sex: take one die and add one for each click you have marked for the character you are on the date with. If there are any new clicks in this roll, then the sex is pretty good and both characters should mark the new click on their character profiles.

True Love, Romance & Eternal Happiness

The game ends when any player wants to try and find True Love: declare your intent to do so at the end of any scene you took part in, but play to the end of the round so that all players have had an equal number of chances to frame a scene.

At the end of the round, each player writes down the name of the character they think their character would most want to find True Love with, then reveals them; as with other things, you can't show anyone else your choice nor communicate it to them until they are all revealed.

If you and another character choose each other you can try for True Love right away: create a pool of dice equal to the number of clicks you share and add 1 die to it for choosing each other as your True Loves, then reveal your Qualities and your Deal Maker & Deal Breaker to each other. Add  1 die to the pool one for each Quality that matches the other character's Deal Maker; if either of you have a Quality that matches the other's Deal Breaker, than halve the final pool, rounding down. If you both have Qualities that match the other's Deal Breaker, then your pool is reduced to zero, so you don't get to roll.

If you chose someone who didn't choose you, you can still try to find true love with them, if they also don't have a match; this works as above, but you don't get the extra die for choosing each other as True Loves. Negotiating who you try to find True Love with can be tricky if there is any kind of love triangle present, so the first couple who agree to try get to do so.

When you roll for True Love roll your pool and look for the highest pair of matches in it; if there are no matches, then you don't find True Love. If there is a match, the relationship is rated on a scale from 1 to 6, corresponding to the match rolled: matching 1s means it's an uncomfortable, troubled relationship, while matching 6s means its perfect and satisfying for the whole of your lives.

You can try again if your pool gets reduced to zero or you roll no matches; you can even choose to break up your relationship if you want to try for something better. Once the initial round of True Love rolls has been made, anyone who wants to try again can do so with any other player who is also willing to try: create a pool as before, adding one for each Quality that matches a Deal Maker, but halving the pool for each Deal Breaker. You can try again several times if you remain unhappy with the results, but you can only try for True Love with each other character once

During this True Love round, narrate how each couple attempts to get together and the results; pay special attention to anyone who trys again for any reason, whether that's because they had no match in the initial round or they simply wanted to try for a better relationship than the one they rolled previously.

Feedback

This is a short game about processes and building upon what has already been stated: in it, the player's collectively take on the role of a crashed AI trying to diagnose what went wrong with it and complete its function, whatever that is.


REBOOT

In order to play this game, you'll need a large sheet of paper (graph paper or plain paper work best), a sharp pencil, an eraser and a coin: the larger the sheet of paper you pick, the longer the game may take. Start by drawing a 4cm x 4cm box in the upper left corner of the sheet (it doesn't matter what shape the paper is or whether you orient it in portrait or landscape): the overall aim of the game is to reach the bottom right corner by drawing a series of boxes and arrows to represent the decisions the AI is faced with, the data is gathers and the actions it takes.

At the start of the game, as the AI reboots and goes through a check-list of procedures, none of the players will know what the AI's purpose is: this will only be learned through play, as the AI accesses its database and sensors. The story of the game will told through the data the AI gathers as it restores itself to functionality.

It isn't necessary to detail every function and process of the AI as it reboots, only the interesting ones: the game is about finding out what the AI's purpose is and whether it can complete that successfully, so it doesn't need to be 'fully programmed,' a rough sketch of its programming is sufficient. The starting point for the game is to choose an ACTION or DECISION for the first box on the chart: how does the AI respond when it reboots after crashing? What is the first thing it does? Since the first box on the flowchart potentially determines a lot about the story, you might want to make this choice as a group, before proceeding to play in turn order.


ACTION

The AI may begin its reboot by taking  an ACTION: each ACTION the AI takes involves it activating a part of the physical system it is operating and has access to. Some potential ACTIONS include:
  • Begin warm-up sequence for main thruster.
  • Send crash report to mission HQ.
  • Engage active defence systems.
  • Power-up drone workforce.
Whenever the AI takes an action, draw a 4x4 box on the flowchart: this should be connected to at least one prior box by an arrow pointing to it. Note the type of ACTION taken and leave space to draw arrows leading out of this box to subsequent ones. Having described the ACTION, complete your turn by tossing a coin to see what the outcome of that action is: if the result is heads, the ACTION is successful and the AI proceeds to the next point on it's check-list; if the result is tails, the ACTION is unsuccessful, so the AI must attempt to rectify the failure before it can proceed. In either case, draw an arrow leading from the box to the next one, but try to be consistent, so that all successful tasks completed are in a continuous line, whereas unsuccessful ones form small loops attached to this line.

If an ACTION fails, it fails: don't simply repeat an ACTION on subsequent turns, as the game will be dull if it features too many back-ups, fail-safes and auxiliary functions. A failed ACTION can be corrected by drawing an arrow back to it after a loop that contains a successful DECISION or ACTION: the AI can gather data and perform functions that allow it to repair or work around failed ACTIONS, so the second time any ACTION is taken, it succeeds, as long as the arrow that is drawn back to it originates from a successful ACTION or DECISION.


DECISION

The AI may attempt to gather more data on its situation, in order to assess what steps it needs to take to resolve a problem; DECISIONS are taken by accessing memory banks or live sensors, interrogating them for whatever data is needed in order to determine the correct course of action. In order to make the DECISION, the AI must apply a binary choice to the data, usually phrased as an IF/THEN statement; some typical DECISIONS might include:





  • If the perimeter is breached, then seal all internal doors.
  • If the drive plasma is below 10%, then change course for the nearest star.
  • If no confirmation is received from mission HQ, then prepare missile launch sequence alpha.
  • If total profits are less than total outgoings, then dismiss the least productive staff member.
When you phrase a DECISION, draw a box on the chart as for an ACTION and describe how the AI obtains the data required, by accessing stored data or collating live feed from sensors, then toss a coin: if the result is heads, the question is answered affirmatively, but if tails, it is answered negatively. When a DECISION is answered affirmatively, the AI takes the ACTION described: add the box for that ACTION to the flowchart but do not toss a coin for it, it succeeds automatically. When a DECISION is answered negatively, the AI must seek further data, therefore the next player must also frame a DECISION for the AI.

DECISIONS are often triggered by failed ACTIONS or negative responses to prior DECISIONS: for example, if an ACTION like 'Begin heating of incubation chamber' fails, then the AI will most likely seek a reason for the failure and take the appropriate steps to rectify it.


NARRATION

The game requires the most narration where DECISIONS are taken, as these are at least a two-tiered process: the active player must both narrate the data being gathered, stating how it is obtained and then incorporating the result into their narration. For example, a player states on their turn that the AI must make a DECISION about this statement: "If there is vehicle activity in the city, send out a drone to investigate." They might narrate this by saying the following: "The AI signals the satellite surveillance network requesting the most recent images of the city at this location." The player then tosses a coin, with the result being tails, so the DECISION is answered negatively, like this for example: "12 microseconds later, the network sends a dossier to the AI containing images of the city over the last hour; comparison of these images shows no significant change, therefore vehicle activity is flagged as absent."


CONCLUSION

The game continues until the AI reaches a CONCLUSION, a point at which it has completed all current functions required of it and can go into hibernation mode until it receives more direct input, such as new instructions or urgent new data. The game should arrive at it's CONCLUSION by the time the flowchart has reached the bottom right corner of the page: the line of boxes may loop back and forth on the page before it reaches the CONCLUSION or it may take a more direct route if a shorter game is acceptable. The CONCLUSION may even be reached abruptly, if an ACTION is successfully taken that all players feel adequately represents a CONCLUSION.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Enemy Within

In the usual process of going through things on my hard drive, looking for that thing I wrote that time and can't remember what I did with it, I discovered this lost piece. I proposed it as one the essay pieces for Andrew Kenrick's Dead of Night 2nd Edition, but it ended up not being used; here's what I wrote about games where the PCs are the monsters.


The Thing, 1982
Two characters are stuck with each other, survivors of the mayhem that has claimed so many other lives; as they look at each other, a paranoid glint in their eyes reveals their inner thoughts: “Are you the monster?” It’s a hard situation to reach in a game, but here are some approaches I've used to good effect.

The Ringer: Brief the players for the scenario, then hand out pre-gens; one of the pre-gens contradicts the briefing however and informs the player that their character is just a façade, since they are really playing the monster. The ringer is created in the same way as any other PC, but with an agenda that includes the death and/or torment of the others. Make sure you give the ringer to a player with a good poker face who is comfortable with pro-active role-playing; with this technique, I have seen three different players take on the same ringer in three very different ways.
  • Patient: Waited for players to put their characters in jeopardy and took advantage of the situation; none of the players knew anything was up until the last half-hour of the game.
  • Subtle: Made use of the ringer’s façade to isolate other characters one by one and put pressure on them, so they turned on each other.
  • Monstrous: Immediately started isolating characters and endangering them; everyone knew something was up, but as it wasn't what they expected, they largely ignored it.

The hard part about this technique when GMing is not accidentally giving the game away; keep a briefing sheet in front of you with all the PCs agendas on it, including any false agenda’s pursued by the ringer, as well as their true agenda. Refer to your briefing frequently in regards to all the PCs, even if you don’t have to, and avoid giving the ringer any special attention beyond the support needed to threaten the other PCs.

The Traitor: Brief the players on the scenario or ask them to collaborate in creating one, but also ask one of the players to take on the role of the monster! All players can collaborate on deciding the traitor player’s agenda and suggest suitable attributes & specialisations, but the traitor is a regular PC during play, whose agenda is the major threat facing the other PCs. This can be played as above, with the players keeping their out-of-character knowledge from affecting their character’s actions, or the nature of the traitor can be known from the start, making it a game of cat & mouse for most of the session.
                The monster PC in these cases usually has a strong home ground advantage and can freely narrate whatever locations or environmental conditions best suit their ploys; as GM, I let that PC frame their own scenes more often and don’t interfere in them too much, but add pressure to any scenes they are absent from to keep the other players on their toes. If the human PCs all put aside their differences and co-operate, they can probably overwhelm the monster PC pretty quickly, so I keep feeding them reasons not to trust each other and encourage them to ignore the immediate threat in pursuit of their own agendas.
In addition to the above, here are two gimmicks you can try; you can also use these to turn a GM-as-monster game into a player-as-monster game half-way through, but it would only be fair to warn players of the potential for this to happen.

Possessors: Ghosts, parasites and evil psychics can use a PC to carry out their bidding; prepare a set of index cards, writing on one a potted monster PC description, focussing on their agenda. At an appropriate point in the game (e.g. at the very start of the game or during a séance) hand out one card to each player; whoever gets dealt the monster is now playing that agenda. Any player can engage any other player in a conflict to swap cards; if they win the conflict, they swap cards with the loser and take one Survival point from them, adding it to their own Survival points. That should give plenty of incentive for everyone to do so, which of course throws suspicion on both players involved in a swap. It also present the players with the challenge of pinning the monster down in one body for long enough to kill it.


Infectors: Zombies, vampires and sentient diseases can all convert any number of humans into fellow monsters; using a variation of the above gimmick, players retain the monster’s agenda even after passing the card to another player. Depending on the monster type, the conflict required to infect another PC may require violence or physical intimacy; players should retain the option of still pursuing the regular agendas of their PC, but as their Survival points diminish, the monster should come more to the fore. The endgame here is all about defeating an ever growing army of monsters before they overwhelm the remaining humans... or before the humans join them.